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The announcement that Canada Post will be phasing out door-to-door mail delivery starting in 2014 is a logical extension of the deregulation, privatization, free trade, public austerity and tax cuts agenda being followed since the 1981-82 recession served as an excuse to roll back public services, and thwart wage and salary gains for working Canadians.
Make Canadians get their own mail? That is where the counter-revolution in economic policy initiated over 30 years ago by big business, adopted by the Trudeau Liberals, continued by the Mulroney Conservatives, the Chrétien and Martin Liberals, and today proudly championed by the Harper Conservatives, ends up.
The premise of that counter-revolution was that governments fail and markets protect. In this spirit, Canada Post should not home-deliver the mail because it is a Crown corporation, and therefore prone to inefficiency. What is left unsaid is getting rid of home delivery puts private ownership of Canada Post within reach.
The postal business is booming, parcel delivery is big business, and the private carriers do not like the idea of a public service competing with them to bring gifts or books by mail to your door.
Who should Canadian entrust with their mail? A public-sector worker who was carefully recruited, is decently paid, enjoys workplace benefits and security of tenure, or a temporary foreign worker recruited by an American parcel delivery operation?
As The Economist reported, Canada Post proposed a privatization scheme to the Conservatives, who in a minority parliament did not want to risk a fight with the public. Then the last head of Canada Post, Moya Greene, was hired to run the Royal Mail in the U.K., and she privatized it.
What the British will discover is privatizing a natural monopoly allows the new private owners to make out like bandits, without having to worry about the democratic mechanisms in place under public-sector ownership.
In the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (FTA) negotiated 25 years ago, the Canadian Crown corporation (think CBC, Bank of Canada, Canada Post, or Hydro-Quebec) was redefined: it became a “public monopoly.” The new language first appeared in the press release from the United States Trade Representative (USTR) that accompanied the interim FTA “Elements of the Agreement” signed in 1987 by the two countries.
The American interpretation of what Canada has signed did not figure in the Canadian press release for good reason. It enshrined in international law (tying down the Canadian Parliament, provincial legislatures and municipal councils) the principle that no new Crown corporation could be created unless American companies that stood to make a profit doing something similar were compensated for present and future loss profits.
American companies gained the extraordinary right to sue the Canadian government if it dared to create, say, public child-care spaces through a new Crown corporation.
Any new public-sector programs would require Canada to pay twice. Once to create the Crown corporation and again to compensate the Americans for lost profits.
The main instrument of Canadian economic development — public ownership — was rendered too expensive through a treaty with the U.S. The big business titans clapped, joined by their hangers-on in the media and academia.
The diehard “free markets can do no harm” crowd greeted the announced termination of home mail delivery by attacking Canada Post as a public monopoly (not a Crown corporation) that should give up its pride of place serving Canadians for financial reasons alone. As David Bush pointed out, Canada Post did in fact take in more money than it spends for the 16 years prior to 2011, and produced a surplus in 2012.
The potential for expanding the postal service into basic banking and financial services is tremendous, as was outlined by John Anderson in a CCPA report. Every month the government pays employees and makes transfer payments to seniors, the unemployed, families and students, and buys goods and services for its own operations. It would be a simple matter for Canada Post to open direct government deposit accounts for all those Canadians currently receiving cheques or having them deposited in commercial banks where service charges pile up on depositors.
Imagine Canadians able to make payments with a Canada Post debit card, or seniors and shut-ins able to arrange for a letter carrier to arrive with cash from a Canada Post account.
The ill-fated long-gun registry could have been created and administered by Canada Post at a fraction of the cost incurred by the Liberal government who turned the project over to its army of consultants, PR firms, pollsters and other hangers-on in the shadow public service that make profits at public expense.
The Harper Conservatives do not care about Canada Post services. Home mail delivery is concentrated in large urban areas where they do not hold seats. But a key Harper voter support group, seniors, will be affected and may decide to make themselves heard. Letter carriers come to the urban door every weekday. The Canadian letter carrier is trusted, reliable, courteous and brave enough to go out in snowstorms, and seriously sub-zero weather. Shall we allow these proud citizens to be treated shabbily so that we can lose the right to home mail delivery?
Who benefits from trashing public services? Not Canadian citizens.
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Duncan Cameron is the president of rabble.ca and writes a weekly column on politics and current affairs.
Photo: douceurs d’etre/flickr